Netflix Falls in Punch-Drunk Love With Adam Sandler

Netflix's deal to make four -- count them, four -- exclusive movies with Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions may be its ticket to Hollywood, or it could be a hot mess. "Depending on the money involved, the risks are that Sandler's movies will be bad, perform poorly -- and if they're really bad, tarnish the brand to some degree," said tech analyst Greg Sterling.

Netflix on Thursday announced that it will be the exclusive home for four original feature films starring and produced by comedian Adam Sandler. Netflix will work with Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions to develop the films and premiere them exclusively on its video streaming service.

“People love Adam’s films on Netflix and often watch them again and again,” said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. “His appeal spans across viewers of all ages — everybody has a favorite movie, everyone has a favorite line — not just in the U.S. but all over the world.”

Sandler, who was a writer and featured performer in the early 1990s on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, has starred in more than two dozen films, which have grossed more than US$3 billion globally at the box office. His films are consistently ranked among the most-viewed by Netflix members worldwide.

“When these fine people came to me with an offer to make four movies for them, I immediately said ‘yes’ for one reason and one reason only — Netflix rhymes with wet chicks,” said Sandler. “Let the streaming begin!”

Movie Move

While Netflix has earned critical praise for its original series — including a slew of Emmy nominations for House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black — the service is still very much built around being an archive of movies.

“This is an interesting development and one that demonstrates that Netflix hasn’t forgotten its movie roots amid the recent focus on television programming,” said Greg Ireland, research director for multiscreen video at IDC.

“This development continues the commitment to original content as a means to differentiate Netflix from the competition and make the service a must-have,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “and it’s yet another instance in which Netflix seeks to establish itself as a major Hollywood player.”

Netflix also may be following the formula of HBO, Showtime and Starz in producing original movies, along with original series, while providing exclusives that aren’t to be found on-demand or via competing services.

“The advantages for Netflix are new, exclusive content for new customer acquisition and retention,” said Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insights at the Local Search Association.

“It also gets a lot of PR and coverage,” he pointed out.

“Its TV production and programming have been responsible in large measure for the company’s recent success,” Sterling told the E-Commerce Times. “Otherwise the company’s movie-streaming content is pretty stale and thin.”

Risk and Reward

Although Sandler has branched out beyond lowbrow comedy and remains a large international draw, there is still risk in betting on four films from a single performer.

“The choice of Sandler is interesting, as he’s had his share of less-than-well-received titles over the years and contrasts with the high-profile relationship with the more serious Kevin Spacey, so the risks here may be considerable,” noted IDC’s Ireland.

“Movies are bigger budget than TV pilots and thus have more risk associated with poor consumer response. That said, Netflix is buying full seasons rather than testing pilots, so perhaps the risk isn’t such a contrast,” he suggested.

“In a way, this is also part of the maturation of Netflix and is not that much different from efforts by leading cable channels to produce movies. Original content isn’t just television programs but also includes movies, documentaries, mini-series, etc.,” Ireland said.

Moreover, “depending on the money involved, the risks are that Sandler’s movies will be bad, perform poorly — and if they’re really bad, tarnish the brand to some degree,” said LSA’s Sterling. “Money and return are the gambles that Netflix is taking, especially since it doesn’t monetize with ads or direct sales. It will have to recoup costs in subscription revenue unless it plans to do subsequent or simultaneous theatrical releases.”

Will Hollywood Notice?

Made-for-TV and direct-to-video movies have been staples of Hollywood for years, as have HBO and other pay-TV channel productions. However, with its box office for the summer of 2014 best described as “lackluster,” it could be that Hollywood is ready to explore new outlets for big budget and even high-profile films.

“To a degree, this signals continued experimentation with alternatives to the traditional in-theater experience,” said Ireland. “Cable operators have been offering some limited in-theater titles via video-on-demand for a while now, as a means to tap into an audience that is eager for new content but perhaps prefers to watch at home rather than at the theater.

“With larger screens and home theater audio solutions, it shouldn’t be surprising that some consumers actually prefer the in-home experience,” he observed. “Indeed, it’s something that professional sports have been dealing with too — how to attract consumers to live events when the in-home experience is so good.”

Theater owners likely will not be a fan of further efforts to minimize the importance of the in-theater experience, “yet with new technologies, new devices, and new services,” said Ireland, “consumer behaviors change, and consumer preferences often fragment.”

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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